<strong>Mackay (Australia):</strong> Defending Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) champions Sydney Thunder on Sunday signed up India batter Smriti Mandhana and leading all-rounder Deepti Sharma as they look to start their title defence next month. <p></p> <p></p>The pair will replace the English duo of Heather Knight and Tammy Beaumont who have declared their inability to participate in the tournament. <p></p> <p></p>Sydney Thunder coach, Trevor Griffin, said his team's title defence "had received an extra edge with Indian superstars Smriti Mandhana and Deepti Sharma signing on for the club's WBBL-7 campaign". <p></p> <p></p>"The pair, who are in Queensland with India's national team for the ODI series and Test match against Australia, were identified by Thunder as quality players with the ability to make an explosive impact on the T20 competition," a Sydney Thunder statement said on Sunday. <p></p> <p></p>Mandhana starred for India in Friday night's (September 24) nail-biting, final-ball loss to Australia in Mackay. Her innings of 86 from 94 balls was highlighted by 11 boundaries, and it helped set up India's competitive total of 274 runs. <p></p> <p></p>Sharma made her presence felt in the ODI match described as one of the most thrilling played in Australia, with a knock of 23 runs and by capturing Tahlia McGrath's wicket. <p></p> <p></p>Griffin, who has worked with Mandhana in England, was excited by the thought of the left-handed opener adding her firepower to the side. "She's world class," said Griffin, of the player named the 2018 ICC Women's Cricketer of the Year. "Smriti is an opening batter who has the tremendous ability to take everything in her stride. <p></p> <p></p>"I like that she keeps her game really simple; she just wants to score runs. I'm delighted to have her on board, and I have no doubt that she'll prove to be a great addition to Thunder." <p></p> <p></p>Mandhana, who broke through to be ranked among the world's top three T2OI batters last July, said she would embrace the pressure on her to perform as one of Thunder's overseas players. <p></p> <p></p>"I like it, it always helps," said the 25-year-old of the demands. "Playing in overseas leagues gives you a lot of experience, especially in the T20 format. Then, of course, you exchange so much experience with each other... with all the players from over the world... so you get to learn a lot. <p></p> <p></p>"Rather than pressure, I always look at it as an opportunity to learn, and to get used to that pressure because it only builds when you play international cricket." <p></p> <p></p>Griffin described Deepti Sharma as one that not only allowed Thunder to "usher a genuine talent" into the WBBL, but it also helped to fill the void left by England skipper, Heather Knight. <p></p> <p></p>"While it's disappointing not to be able to have Heather back, if you could choose any replacement for her it would be Deepti - she's also a star," said Griffin. "She offers a lot with the bat - Deepti is a match winner - and she also has the talent to bowl in the powerplay, during the middle of a match, or at the death. Deepti is a great addition to the Thunder, and I have no doubt she'll go a long way to helping us in this year's competition." <p></p> <p></p>The 24-year-old said she was thrilled to sign with Thunder, because after starring in England's Super League and The Hundred, it was her goal to play in the WBBL. <p></p> <p></p>"This is my first time [in the WBBL], so I'm excited," she said. "I've had offers before, but I couldn't play at the time because at the time we had [an international] series. It's a big thing for Indian women's cricket that we have the opportunity to play in the WBBL. We have to express ourselves in the competition." <p></p> <p></p>Sydney Thunder begin their WBBL-07 campaign against the Adelaide Strikers on October 16 in Hobart.